Two reports today exposing the Neo-Confederate federal lands grab scam. first, Think Progress reports, Utah Lawmaker Accused Of ‘Illegal Scheme’ To Seize America’s Public Lands:
A watchdog organization filed complaints against a Utah state representative on Monday for allegedly leading “an illegal scheme to defraud local government officials out of taxpayer funds” to finance a campaign to seize America’s public lands.
The complaints, filed by the Campaign for Accountability (CfA), request that the attorneys general of Utah, Arizona and Montana investigate state Rep. Ken Ivory (R) for “solicit[ing] funds from local officials, falsely claiming the federal government can be forced to transfer public lands to the states.” The complaints cite Ivory’s use of his role as president and founder of the American Lands Council (ALC), a Utah-based organization, to “enrich” his personal wealth and make “false or fraudulent representations to obtain money.”
Anne Weismann, executive director of the CfA, called Rep. Ivory a “snake oil salesman, cloaked with respectability by his position as a legislator,” in a press release.
“Ken Ivory has relied on his position and authority as a Utah state legislator to persuade unsuspecting local officials that if they contribute taxpayer dollars to his charity, they can help their states acquire federal land and increase revenues,” Weismann continued. “He might as well be trying to sell them the Brooklyn Bridge.”
The ALC, which Ivory founded to advocate for giving America’s public lands to state governments, pays both Ivory and his wife for their respective roles as the group’s president and communications director. Additionally, “more than 50 percent of the organization’s most recent budget,” which comes primarily from contributions made by local governments, “was spent enriching Rep. Ivory and his wife,” according to the press release announcing the complaints.
Ivory has denied the accusations of wrongdoing. In comments to the Associated Press, Ivory called the complaints shameful, saying they represented “bullying tactics to stifle legitimate political debate.” He said the group was his primary job and therefore it made sense that he was paid for his work. In addition, he said that his $40,000 yearly salary is “a small fraction of the salaries that environmental groups pay their top officers.”
In his role with ALC, Ivory travels across the West making presentations to convince local governments to become members, echoing the anti-federal government sentiments of outlaw rancher Cliven Bundy, who has also become a spokesperson for similar proposals to seize America’s public lands. According to CfA, Ivory claims that the federal government has “no legal right to the land,” and that the “return of the land would be a financial boon to the states.”
However, these proposals are deeply unpopular with Western voters, and are considered to be unconstitutional by some legal scholars. Moreover, they would place the extreme costs of managing the lands on state budgets, leaving local taxpayers with the bill, and potentially forcing states to raise taxes or sell of the lands for drilling, mining, and logging.
Controversy surrounding the ethics of ALC, Ivory and other associated lawmakers has been building in recent months. In May, Colorado Ethics Watch filed a complaint against the ALC for illegally lobbying “without registering in the state or reporting its income,” as reported by the Utah Political Capitol. In Montana, an aide for ALC spokesperson state Senator Jennifer Fielder (R) resigned for ethics violations after registering as a lobbyist for ALC.
The Arizona Republic adds today, Counties paid taxpayer cash to states-rights group:
Arizona counties in recent years paid out at least $16,000 in taxpayer dollars to a controversial states-rights group that now faces fraud allegations in several states.
The American Lands Council, run by Republican Utah state Rep. Ken Ivory, advocates forcing the federal government to hand over control of federal land to western states. In Arizona, about 42 percent of the land is controlled by the federal government.
According to the organization’s website, Apache County, Mohave County and the Eastern Arizona Counties Organization in 2013 each paid $5,000 to become silver members of the group. Navajo County paid $1,000 to become a bronze member.
Ivory has made presentations around the state encouraging Arizonans to take control of federal lands and join the council, including an April presentation to state lawmakers during a legislative committee hearing. The Eagar Town Council and Apache County Board of Supervisors each passed resolutions in support of the American Lands Council’s efforts.
On Monday, the national non-profit advocacy group Campaign for Accountability filed complaints in Arizona, Utah and Montana requesting investigations into Ivory. The complaints allege Ivory engaged in an illegal scheme to defraud local government officials out of taxpayer money by falsely claiming states have the authority to force the federal government to transfer land to the states and then financially benefiting from the claims.
According to tax records, $95,000 of the $209,177 the group raised in 2012 went to pay Ivory. Another $19,000 went to pay his wife.
“He has been traveling throughout the western states for a number of years now pedaling this idea that if local councilmen and local political officials pay money to the American Land[s] Council and sign up for yearly memberships, he can get legislation passed that will return federal lands to the state,” said Anne Weismann, Campaign for Accountability’s executive director. “A lot of that money is going into his own pocket, as well as the pocket of his wife.”
Weismann said such state statutes are likely unconstitutional, and returning lands to the states would “impose huge economic burdens on the states.” Utah in 2012 passed Ivory’s legislation, but has yet to successfully acquire any federal land. It has also not followed up on threats to sue the federal government to acquire the land. Former Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer in 2012 vetoed a similar bill, saying it could cost the state millions to maintain the land.
The Arizona Legislature this session established a Transfer of Federal Lands Study Committee to study the issue and offer recommendations by the end of 2019. Efforts this year and in prior years to pass bills authorizing the state to try to take the land have failed. Ballot measures similarly have failed in recent years.
“The movement is gaining some traction,” Weismann said. “But we think it’s based on a house of cards.”
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The complaint filed in Arizona also alleges Ivory is acting as a lobbyist, and yet has not registered as a lobbyist in the state. He said he is not a lobbyist, but simply providing information.
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Officials from Apache and Mohave counties could not be reached for comment. Navajo County Manager James Jayne said his county did make one dues payment to the organization for 2013, but had not made one before that and did not plan to make any additional payments.
“The interest of the county at the time was the interest of then-Supervisor Sylvia Allen,” Jayne said. “The county has no intention of making an other dues payments to that organization.”
Allen, now a Republican state senator, did not return calls seeking comment. Allen in 2014 posted several comments supporting the American Lands Council on a Facebook post by conservative talk radio host Glenn Beck.
Think Progress adds:
With support from the oil and gas industry and the Koch-backed American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), efforts to seize and sell off public lands have also gained attention at the national level. In April, seven Republican members of Congress, led by Utah Congressmen Chris Stewart and Rob Bishop, launched a “Federal Land Action Group” to develop legislation to give away America’s public lands. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Ted Cruz have also been vocal supporters in the Senate.
As the ethics inquiries into Rep. Ivory continue, the attorneys general have the opportunity to respond to CfA’s complaints by opening full investigations. According to the AP, representatives for the Utah and Montana attorneys general offices are reviewing the accusations.
I swear the right-wing is made up of grifters and con men who rile up the rubes and relieve them of the money in their wallets by promoting ridiculous ideas that have no basis in fact. Sadly, virtually every Tea-Publican member of the Arizona legislature has bought into this scam.